In case of emergency – the sequel

Yesterday, the CRTC issued a public notice for “Establishment of a regulatory framework for next-generation 9-1-1 in Canada“. Along with the formal public notice, the Commission issued a press release, launched a splashy video, and a new website:

The public proceeding will cover many issues, including:

  • NG9-1-1 services
  • NG9-1-1 architecture and responsibilities
  • transition steps and timelines
  • funding
  • confidentiality
  • reporting and monitoring

A little over two years ago, the CRTC announced “Text with 9-1-1 services for hearing or speech impaired persons“. At the time, I wrote: “Regrettably, I am not convinced this is a service that truly meets the needs of the community it is intended to serve.” The user interface struck me as too complicated. I closed off that post with a question: “Should people need a training course and have to invest in new mobile handsets in order to make emergency calls?”

The blog post attracted more comments than any other in 2014, with a debate about my harsh reaction.

Two years later, the wireless industry is preparing to release an instructional video to help potential users learn how to Text with 9-1-1. Yesterday, an email circulated among the review committee providing comments on the draft video. One of the people who most strongly defended the text with 9-1-1 user interface in the comments on my blog post admitted that he had trouble making his first test call. He wrote: “When I practiced my first call I forgot to press the send phone.” Since most of the target community never makes voice calls, this person, who has been deeply involved with the design of the service, forgot to push the “send” button after dialing the numbers 9-1-1.

It has been 4 years since Canada allocated 700MHz spectrum for use by public safety agencies. Commercial carriers began using similar spectrum within two months of getting the spectrum. That led me to suggest that new approaches might be worth exploring. One of the biggest challenges in improving public safety communications is governance: the CRTC is exploring national solutions, but most first response agencies are municipal. This is an area that the CRTC plans to explore.

At the end of the day, next generation 9-1-1 will require the public safety organizations to upgrade their equipment, which is an area the CRTC acknowledges is beyond its jurisdiction:

  1. Local PSAPs have their own internal systems composed of hardware and software used to receive 9-1-1 calls, display caller information, and dispatch emergency responders. PSAPs’ systems fall outside the Commission’s jurisdiction, as explained below.

The oral hearing opens in January, 2017. Initial submissions are due May 20, 2016.

Hopefully, Next Generation 9-1-1 won’t require people to view an instructional video before making an emergency call.

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